A coprolite is a fossilized faeces. It is also known as coprolith. Coprolites are categorized as trace fossils and give evidence about the diet of extinct animals. The term coprolite is derived from the Greek words “kopros” and “lithos” which means dung stone. Coprolites are very rare as the faecal matter decay very rapidly. The indigestible part, bones, scales, teeth, or shells are preserved very well in the coprolites.
In coprolites, the original organic composition is replaced by silicates and calcium carbonates. Sometimes the shape of the coprolites indicates the respective organism. The spiral-shaped coprolites indicate the shark species. The spiral-shaped is due to the presence of the spiral valve in the shark’s intestine.
Coprolites were first identified as “bezoar stones” by British fossil hunter Mary Anning in 1924. Scientists from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America reported traces of DNA in the coprolites. They found the coprolites of extinct birds contain ectomycorrhizal fungi (Boast et al., 2018, PNAS).
Qvarnström et al (2021) recently reported an extinct species of beetle Triamyxa coprolithica in a Triassic period coprolite. The age of the fossils is about 230-million-year-old. The beetle belongs to a member of the extinct family Triamyxidae. The coprolite was expected to excrete by Silesaurus opolensis.
References: Boast et al., 2018, PNAS and Qvarnström et al., 2021, Current Biology